Get your stirrups out and order yourself a pair of assless chaps: country music is finally changing.
Country music has been long dominated by an era of “bro-country” — country music made by straight white men, best characterized by songs about drinking, trucks, and blue jeans. Yet, at its core, country music is a genre that is truly all about subversion. Country, essentially, takes the mythology of the cowboy and turns it into an act, one that drifts from tradition. In this new “bro-country” movement, subversion is completely lost, which is why someone like Orville Peck, with the first two chapters of his latest album “Bronco,” is so important for this era of country music.
The Toronto-based singer-songwriter announced “Bronco,” his sophomore album, on Feb. 7. In the “Bronco” trailer, the album was revealed to be released in three separate chapters weeks apart from each other.
The two chapters that have been released as of publication (the final chapter is to be released on Apr. 8) stay true to the musical stylings of country but often draw subtle influences from the closely related genres of folk and rock, which may not be surprising given Peck’s time as a drummer in a punk band. Content-wise, the first chapter of “Bronco” lends itself to a more upbeat, somewhat positive feeling with its selection of songs like “C’mon Baby Cry,” “Outta Time,” “Dayton Sand,” and “Any Turn,” which in particular truly feels like the perfect jig to square dance to. The second chapter of “Bronco” explores darker topics than its predecessor, being largely made up of emotionally-ravaging ballads that dive into topics like abusive relationships (“Curse of the Blackened Eye”), loneliness (“Kalahari Down”), deep longing (“Hexie Mountains”), and depression (“Trample Out the Days”). With a focus on the emotional vulnerability that often lies at the core of the country genre, Peck is able to highlight his classical vocal training and emotional range as an artist.
While the first two chapters of “Bronco” are starkly different from one another, they fit amazingly well together. Peck’s vocals perfectly capture the campy pantomime of cowboy mythology and pair over-the-top performances with genuine emotional vulnerability. The songs draw on multiple contemporary inspirations, and in doing so stand out against what has become expected of country.
If the first two chapters of the album are any indication, the third and final chapter of “Bronco” should be just as masterfully crafted and beautifully performed. There is no doubt that Peck will manage to meet and exceed these expectations and successfully craft an album that may sway any who feel trepidation towards the genre of country music.